Buying a car from a dealer in California may get even more hazardous to your financial health

When you buy a car at an auto dealership, you should be able to get all the terms in writing BEFORE you sign anything — right?  Right. But for California car buyers, that may change. Why? Because car dealers are aggressively lobbying to get rid of the consumer protection laws in California that currently prohibit them from using “e-contracting.”

The California New Car Dealers Association and Enterprise Holdings (one of the largest sellers of used cars) are pushing for passage of AB 380, authored by Assemblymember Matt Dababneh (D-Van Nuys), powerful chair of the California Assembly Committee on Banking.

But consumer groups including CARS, CALPIRG, the Consumer Federation of California, and Consumer Action are fighting back, to preserve protections for California car buyers.

What’s wrong with e-contracting in car transactions?

Unscrupulous car dealers and shady lenders LOVE “e-contracting.” A LOT. That’s because the combination of high-pressure sales tactics at the car dealership — aimed at consumers who are often tired and feeling rushed after hours of haggling and test-driving cars — and all-electronic transactions make it much easier for dealers and crooked lenders to get away with fraud, forgery, and other illicit (but oh-so profitable!) flim-flam.

Among crooked car dealers’ favorite e-contracting scams: selling cars in excess of the agreed-upon price, “packing” loans with thousands of dollars in unwanted, high-profit, worthless add-ons, overcharging for license fees and pocketing the difference, selling cars that fail to pass smog,  charging bogus “government” fees, and engaging in other types of fraud.

Unlike with home purchases, where there are strict, built-in protections, auto sales transactions fail to require the seller to provide you with a written, good faith estimate of all the costs three days in advance, before you sign.  Buying a car is much riskier. It’s also riskier than credit card transactions, where there are limits on your liability in the event of identity theft or fraud.

You have a lot to lose

Under the federal Truth in Lending Act, you are entitled to get all the disclosures about an auto loan in writing. BEFORE you sign anything. Like: What will the monthly payments be? How much will you have to pay in interest?  How long will the loan last? Up front. In your own hands. Then if you wish, you can leave the dealership and take that document with you and shop around, to see if you can find another dealer or lender who will beat that offer. You have that important right, thanks to federal law.

California law also prohibits dealers from using e-contracts. That means when you buy a car in California, the dealer should hand you a paper document, with everything in writing, all nicely filled in. You can look at the entire document at one time, or zero in on any part of it. You get to review the whole contract before you decide whether you want to agree to anything. You can tell that “friendly” F & I manager to stop hovering over you, while you read it. You can take it with you while you sip a cup of coffee in a quiet spot. You can show it to your spouse, or friends, or an attorney, or anyone you wish,  BEFORE you sign.

But if the dealers and lenders have their way, and gut California’s law against e-contracting in auto sales, dealers will be able to get away with concealing vital terms on a computer screen that you may not even be able to read. You certainly cannot take the computer or e-pad with you and shop around. It won’t be in your control. Instead, it will be in the dealership’s control.

If  AB 380 passes, car dealers can lure consumers into signing in advance that they agreed to let the dealer use e-contracting, to buy a car.  They can make it sound like it’s no big deal. Then they can use that against car buyers, if there are any disagreements over what they agreed upon. Making matters worse, “signing” can be done by anyone who has access to the computer — with the click of a mouse.  It would become virtually impossible to prove your signature was forged. Your “signature” could be added with a click. By anyone.

And — you won’t get anything in writing, on paper, until AFTER the documents have already been “signed.” By then, it’s too late, and you may be held legally obligated to pay, even if you are the victim of a scam.

Consumers fight back

Some dealers in California have jumped the gun and are already acting as if it were legal for them to use e-contracts. With unfortunate but predictable results. Consumers are starting to complain they didn’t get to see the screen, and dealers are adding thousands of dollars extra, above the purchase price that was negotiated; giving the consumers thousands less than the agreed-upon value of their trade-ins; and adding in worthless, expensive service contracts  — even when the consumers rejected them, during negotiations. One dealer added over $4000 in multiple unwanted, worthless extra service contracts onto the purchase of a new car, plus “surface protection” costing over $1200 and “Lo Jack” costing $695 — extremely high-profit items for car dealers.

In some cases, consumers have won the right take these dealers to court, because the judges agreed that the contracts were not binding, citing the existing law that prohibits e-contracting. Otherwise, the consumers could be forced into arbitration, basically being compelled to surrender their Constitutional right to fight back in a court of law.

If the predatory dealers and lenders win, and AB 380 passes, consumers would be likely to lose those court challenges they are winning now, and could be forced to give up their ability to hold unscrupulous dealers accountable.

Winners and Losers

If AB 380 passes, the biggest winners will be large auto dealership chains like AutoNation, which took in over $19 billion in gross revenue in 2014. They are publicly traded on Wall Street. Their biggest investor? Bill Gates.

The biggest losers will be California’s new and used car buyers who can ill-afford to give away thousands of their hard-earned dollars to mega-dealers and big banks for the privilege of being ripped off.

What can you do to help stop AB 380, the crooked car dealers and fraudulent lenders’ favorite bill?

Call your Assemblymember and tell them to vote NO on AB 380. Buying a car from a car dealer in California is already dangerous enough.  Here’s where to find out who your Assemblymember in Sacramento is: Find Your Legislator

Thank you! Every call helps make a difference!

Read more:

Large coalition of pro-consumer, pro-economic justice organizations opposes AB 380

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety opposes AB 380 (Dababneh)

More pro-consumer organizations are also opposing AB 380:

Consumer Federation of California

CALPIRG

Public Counsel

Attorney David Valdez, who represents many victims of unscrupulous auto dealers and lenders

 

 

 

Buying a used car? YIPES!!

Comedian and commentator John Oliver lambastes crooked car dealers and greedy auto lenders. These are the unscrupulous characters we’re battling with, to protect consumers.

How can you avoid becoming a victim of greedy dealers and Wall Street bankers? It’s easier than you think. Here’s how you can get a good deal on a nice, safe, reliable used car — without having to deal with professional crooks.

How to get a good deal on a nice, safe, reliable used car

 

 

 

 

Car Hop Ordered to cease harming consumers’ credit

So-called “Buy Here Pay Here” dealers like Car Hop often lure used car buyers onto their car lots with signs that scream:  “No Credit? No Problem!”  “Repo? No Problem!” “Bad Credit? No problem!”

They even promise that if you buy a car from them, and make your payments on time, they will help you restore or improve your credit. That’s one of the major reasons many car buyers shop there.

But all too often,what actually happens is another story.  American’s top consumer financial protection watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, just issued this announcement:

“CFPB Orders CarHop to Pay $6.4 Million Penalty for Jeopardizing Consumers’ Credit

One of Nation’s Biggest “Buy-Here, Pay-Here” Auto Dealers Provided Inaccurate Credit Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is taking action against CarHop, one of the country’s biggest “buy-here, pay-here” auto dealers, and its affiliated financing company, Universal Acceptance Corporation, for providing damaging, inaccurate consumer information to credit reporting companies. CarHop and its affiliate also failed to provide accurate, positive credit information that it promised consumers it would supply to the credit reporting companies. The CFPB’s investigation found that the companies inaccurately reported information for more than 84,000 accounts on a widespread and systemic basis. The CFPB is ordering the companies to cease their illegal activities and pay a $6,465,000 civil penalty.

“Many consumers went to CarHop because they needed transportation and wanted to build up a good record of paying their bills,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “But CarHop and Universal Acceptance Corporation thwarted those expectations by inaccurately furnishing negative credit information. The CFPB will not stand for companies whose sloppy actions jeopardize consumers’ credit.”

Minnesota-based CarHop, also known as Interstate Auto Group, is one of the largest buy-here, pay-here auto dealers in the nation. Buy-here, pay-here dealers sell cars and originate and service the auto loan. CarHop has approximately 50 retail locations in approximately 15 states. CarHop sells vehicles primarily to customers with nonexistent or poor credit histories in need of subprime or deep subprime credit. It markets itself as a way for these consumers to rebuild or build-up good credit by saying it will provide positive payment histories to the credit reporting companies. Consumers who buy from CarHop frequently do so because they suffer from poor credit scores and other financial challenges.

Universal Acceptance Corporation, on behalf of CarHop, furnishes consumer account information to all three major consumer reporting companies on a monthly basis. The CFPB found that the company reported information that it knew or had reasonable cause to believe was inaccurate. The company inaccurately furnished information for more than 84,000 accounts from about January 2009 until September 2013. With CarHop, consumers may not have even known about the damage to their credit profiles resulting from the erroneous reporting unless and until they checked their credit reports.

Almost all the information the companies inaccurately furnished to the credit reporting companies could potentially harm customers. The negative information could lower a consumer’s credit score, hamper their ability to obtain other credit, and hurt their job prospects. The CFPB found that CarHop and Universal Acceptance Corporation violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act. Specifically, the companies:

  • Deceived consumers into believing they could build up good credit with CarHop: As part of its marketing and sales practices, CarHop represented in writing to consumers that it reports “good credit” to the credit reporting companies. CarHop also emphasized to consumers its part in helping them build and maintain good credit. This appealed to consumers trying to build up their credit profiles with a history of on-time payments. But the company, through Universal Acceptance Corporation, failed to furnish certain positive information, including information that would support “good credit,” for tens of thousands of consumers.
  • Provided inaccurate repossession information: CarHop customers had the right to voluntarily return their vehicles within 72 hours of purchase for a full refund without any penalties or additional obligations. But for some customers who returned their vehicles under this policy, Universal Acceptance Corporation did not accurately report to the credit reporting companies what really happened. Instead, the company inaccurately reported on numerous occasions that the cars had been repossessed or that the consumer still owed money.
  • Incorrectly reported previous customers as still owing money: For consumers 72 hours past purchase, CarHop often resolved disputes by having the customer return the vehicle. It then issued documentation to the customer saying they no longer had any financial obligations and had settled their account. But for hundreds of customers, in the months or even years that followed after they returned their vehicles, Universal Acceptance Corporation inaccurately furnished, on a monthly basis, information that said that the customer still had an outstanding balance. Sometimes, the company inaccurately reported the amount past due in continuously increasing amounts.
  • Failed to have reasonable written policies and procedures to ensure the accuracy of consumers’ credit information: Universal Acceptance Corporation had no written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the consumer information it furnished until early August 2013. The policies it adopted that month were not reasonable or appropriate to the nature, size, complexity, and scope of the company’s activities.

Enforcement Action

Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB has the authority to take action against institutions or individuals engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices or that otherwise violate federal consumer financial laws. Under the terms of the CFPB orders released today, CarHop and Universal Acceptance Corporation must:

  • Cease misrepresenting that they will report “good credit”: The companies must not misrepresent to customers that they will report “good credit” or other positive information to the credit reporting companies.
  • Correct credit reporting information: If Universal Acceptance Corporation furnished information to a credit reporting company that it knew or had reasonable cause to believe was inaccurate, it must notify the credit reporting company of the inaccuracy. When it does so, it must either provide corrected information or request that the company delete the wrong information from the consumer’s file if accurate information is not available.
  • Provide credit reports to harmed consumers: CarHop and Universal Acceptance Corporation must, for consumers who had incorrect information furnished about their accounts, arrange for consumers to obtain free credit reports from the credit reporting companies that received the inaccurate information.
  • Implement an audit program to ensure laws are followed: CarHop and Universal Acceptance Corporation must implement a process for auditing information that Universal Acceptance Corporation furnishes to the credit reporting companies on a monthly basis. This process must include monitoring and evaluating the disputes the companies receive. The audit is designed to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the information.
  • Pay a $6,465,000 civil penalty: CarHop and Universal Acceptance Corporation will pay a $6,465,000 penalty to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.”

The consent order can be found at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201512_cfpb_carhop-consent-order.pdf

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Actions like this one are why consumers all over America are growing to LOVE our consumer watchdog agency, the CFBP. And why car dealers are trying to get special favors from Congress to stop the CFPB from being able to do its job.

Greedy car dealers and lenders are hell-bent on finding ways to keep profiting from the excessive interest charges paid by people who actually deserve to pay less, based on their credit histories.

Consumer protection groups like CARS are fighting back. If you were ripped off by Car Hop, we’d love to hear from you. Here’s where you can contact us:

http://carconsumers.org/contact.htm

Plus here are tips for how to get a good deal on a nice, safe used car — without getting scammed by a sleazy car dealer:

http://carconsumers.org/usedcarbuyingtips.htm

With best wishes for safe, happy motoring —

CARS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York’s Julie Menin: Tackling Predatory Car Lenders

New York’s Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, Julie Menin, is determined to protect New Yorkers from predatory auto lending practices. Desperate used car buyers have been complaining to the agency, after they were cheated by unscrupulous car dealers who charged exorbitant interest rates for cars that often broke down soon after purchase, leaving them with ruined credit, deeper in debt, and without wheels.

According to the New York Times, auto loan debts sink many New Yorkers financially, averaging more than $12,000 — a burden that can prove impossible on an average annual income of just $36,000. Plus dealers commonly tack on high-priced add-ons that inflate the loans, without adding any value.

In response, the Department of Consumer Affairs is developing a “municipal auto loan initiative,” to allow troubled borrowers to get auto loans directly from a number of lenders on more consumer-friendly terms. This innovative approach promises to provide New Yorkers with lower-cost, less risky access to the cars they need to get to work.

The Department is insisting that interest rates on the loans be fixed, at 16% or less, and that any application fees may not exceed $25.

CARS wishes New York and its courageous pro-consumer Commissioner Julie Menin great success. We hope that this innovative new program thrives and helps lift up thousands of New Yorkers who would otherwise fall prey to dealers itching to exploit them.

Read more:

New York Times: New York City Starts Car Loan Program to Curb Abusive Practices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy a car – surrender your rights?

One more reason not to buy a car from a car dealer:  when you do, they force you to give up your right to sue them if they cheat you.  So say good-bye to being able to take advantage of consumer protection laws.

Think a dealer wouldn’t dare roll back the odometer? Think again. They just slip a clause in your contract that says you can’t sue. Then when you find out your low-mileage car actually has over 100,000 extra miles that “disappeared” from the odometer — good luck trying to sue them under the Federal Odometer Act.

Car dealers used to face tough sanctions, including punitive damages, for ripping off consumers. But with rare exceptions, those days are gone.  That’s because car dealers insert “arbitration” clauses into their contracts. Then, after you’ve been shopping, test-driving cars, and negotiating for an average of 4 hours, they shove a stack of documents across a desk and tell you to “sign here, here and here.”

What they don’t tell you is that when you sign, you are giving up your rights under state and federal consumer protection laws. So forget hauling them before a judge or jury, who can throw the book at them. Instead, if you get any hearing at all, it’s before an “arbitrator” whose company just happens to be paid by — you guessed it — the dealer.

Under rulings by the Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, this is perfectly legal.

Ironically, the dealers got a special exemption from Congress that allows them to sue anyone they please. They’re free to use the courts. But you can’t.

Evidence is mounting about how biased and unfair arbitration is. Check out this new report, issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. No wonder car dealers HATE this consumer watchdog agency. It shows how rigged the game is, when you buy a car from a dealer:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report

Don’t end up like Jon Perz, who has been waiting over 7 years for justice, after a car dealer in San Diego sold him an unsafe car.

YouTube Video of used car nightmare — over 1.3 million views

Be a smart shopper. Check out CARS’ car-buying tips for how to get a safe, reliable used car — without having the hassle or risk of buying from a dealer:

CARS Used Car Buying Tips

Happy, safe car shopping!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Car Title Loans — Get a Loan, Lose Your Car

Thinking about getting a car title loan, to tide you over? Don’t do it — unless you can afford to lose your car. Car title lenders trap consumers in loans they can’t afford, then take their cars.

Warns Tiffany Richardson, a Houston, Texas area nurse who lost both of her cars to a car title lender: “No matter how bad it gets, do not go.” — Texas Tribune, August 23, 2014.

Sometimes they refuse to accept payments made via phone or other means, in hopes you will default. Then they pounce, and grab your car. They make a killing when they get to collect payments from you, plus end up owning your car.

Car title lenders in California often lure consumers into loans bigger then they need. Why?  Because there is no cap on the interest they can charge for loans over $2500. So even if you want a loan of only $600, they will tell you that you should get a bigger loan, over $2500. That way,  they can charge you absurdly high interest rates — and are more likely to end up seizing your car.

Better alternatives:

Borrow from relatives

Get credit counseling from a non-profit credit counselor approved by the Federal Trade Commission who can help you figure out a better way to deal with debt

Sell your car and get a less expensive car, take public transportation, or rent a car while you get back on your feet

Read more:

Texas Tribune / NY Times report “Thousands in Texas lose cars to car title lenders”

 

FTC takes action against 9 car dealers over “deceptive” ads

In a rare move, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently zeroed in on how auto dealers sell, finance, and lease both new and used motor vehicles. The agency called their nationwide sweep “Operation Steer Clear.”

As a result of the FTC’s taking action, nine auto dealers agreed to settle deceptive advertising charges.  The agency alleged that the dealers made a variety of false claims in print, Internet, and video advertisements that violated the FTC Act, deceiving the public about the actual costs of purchasing, leasing, or financing vehicles. One dealer even advertised that consumers had won prizes they could collect at the dealership — only to find, when they arrived on the lot, they had not won.

“Buying or leasing a car is a big deal, and car ads are an important source of information for serious shoppers,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Dealers’ ads need to spell out costs and other important terms customers can count on. If they don’t, dealers can count on the FTC to take action.”

According to the FTC, the agency’s ‘Operation Steer Clear’ led to settlements with these dealerships in California:

Casino Auto Sales of La Puente, CA and Rainbow Auto Sales of South Gate, CA. Both allegedly violated the FTC Act by “deceptively advertising that consumers could purchase vehicles at specific low prices when, in fact, the price was $5,000 higher. Both dealers’ ads involved a mix of English and Spanish.

Honda of Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA, and Norm Reeves Honda of Cerritos, CA, violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising that consumers could pay $0 up-front to lease a vehicle when, in fact, the advertised amounts excluded substantial fees and other amounts. The ads also allegedly violated the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA) and Regulation M, by failing to disclose certain lease related terms. Norm Reeves Honda’s ads also allegedly violated the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Regulation Z, by failing to disclose certain credit related terms.

The FTC also settled similar cases with dealerships in Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Michigan, and Texas. The Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs and the Michigan Department of Attorney General assisted the agency by investigating dealers in those states.

The FTC deserves credit for focusing on harmful auto dealer practices, including at politically potent new car dealerships.  However, no dealer agreed to pay a fine or any restitution to victims. Instead, the dealers agreed to behave better in the future.

The public is invited to comment to the FTC about the settlements, until Feb. 10.

Read more:  FTC Announces settlements with auto dealers

 

 

Ally Bank ordered to pay $80 million to consumers harmed by discriminatory lending

More than 235,000 African-American, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific Islander borrowers, who were charged higher interest rates on their auto loans from Ally Bank, based on their race, stand to get back $80 million, thanks to courageous action by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Department of Justice.

The consumer protection and law enforcement agencies are coordinating their efforts to curb discriminatory lending in auto loans, which cost car buyers billions of dollars in hidden extra fees, while fattening the profits made by lenders and auto dealers. This is the government’s largest auto loan discrimination settlement ever.

“Discrimination is a serious issue across every consumer credit market,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are returning $80 million to hard-working consumers who paid more for their cars or trucks based on their race or national origin. We look forward to working closely with the Justice Department and Ally to make sure this serious issue will be addressed appropriately in the years ahead as well.”

Read more: CFPB and US DOJ order Ally to pay $80 million to car buyers

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Close the Car Dealer Loophole

Should auto dealers, who write tens of billions of dollars in auto lending contracts each year, evade regulation by the nation’s leading agency for policing consumer financing?

US Senator Elizabeth Warren recently made it clear that she thinks the answer is NO.  While questioning Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who was testifying before the US Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Warren offered this opinion:

“As you know, the CFPB has authority over nearly every kind of consumer loan, but the big exception is car loans. The CFPB has done great work in this area [focusing on lenders, but not dealers]…But it makes no sense to me that there should be any exception here for consumers who are being tricked out of billions of dollars every year on car loans.”

Sen. Warren conceived of the idea of an independent consumer financial watchdog agency, and worked hard to make it a reality.  During the debate over whether to include auto dealers, they misled members of Congress and the public, repeatedly claiming they are “Main Street, not Wall Street.”

However, the reality is quite different. Hundreds of dealerships are owned by large, publicly traded dealership groups that are publicly traded and sold on Wall Street.  For example, AutoNation, based in Florida, owns 221 dealerships across the U.S. and took in over $15.6 billion last year.  AutoNation’s largest investor is Bill Gates.

Does anyone seriously believe that fits the description of “Main Street”?

Read more: Warren: Close CFPB’s dealer ‘loophole’

 

 

 

 

Car title loans — who pays, who makes a killing?

High-cost car title loans are illegal in most states. That’s because they’re so risky for borrowers, often ruining lives. Particularly when people lose their cars — usually their only way to get to work — and then their jobs.

In 2004, in response to a two-part series of front-page reports by David Lazarus in the San Francisco Chronicle, exposing the seedy but growing car title lending business, California legislators vowed to put a stop to title loans.  Fast-forward almost a decade, and what’s changed?  Nothing — except the shady, predatory businesses continue to expand and cost more consumers triple-digit interest, and often their vehicles.

How high is the default rate for car title loans? At a hearing before the California Assembly Banking Committee, Oscar Rodriguez, CEO of LoanMart, testified on behalf of the leading trade association for car title lenders operating in California.  When asked, point-blank, he admitted that while some lenders have default rates of 14-15%, others have rates up to 40-50%. This is astronomical, and powerful evidence that the loans are predatory — not designed to aid the borrowers, but to strip them of their only valuable material possession — their car.

California caps the interest rate on some loans below $2500. So title lenders skirt the law by talking consumers who seek smaller loans into getting loans over the $2500 threshold. Consumers naturally assume that must mean that they qualify to borrow more, based on their income or creditworthiness. In reality, their credit has nothing to do with the loan amount. As long as the lender can seize their car, and it’s worth much more than the loan, there’s no risk for the lender.  Of course, the bigger loan increases the risk for the borrower.

As the Attorney General of Florida warns: “Remember that a title loan is not risky for the lender but it may be very risky for you.”  How to protect yourself: title loans

So who benefits from car title lending? Award-winning journalist Gary Rivlin’s portrait of who’s living high off the hog thanks to high-cost loans, including car-title loans:

Portrait of a Subprime Lender

What can you do to avoid the car title lending trap?  If at all possible, save up instead of getting a loan. If that’s not possible, find other, less-risky ways to borrow money.  Some lower-risk options: Join a credit union. Seek loans from family members. Sell your car and buy a less-expensive one. Usually, you’re much better off selling it yourself than having it repossessed by a car title lender.

Read more:

Auto-title loans drawing scrutiny — Sacramento Bee, by Personal Finance Columnist Claudia Buck

‘Car-title loans’ a road to deep debt  — San Francisco Chronicle, by Business Reporter Carolyn Said

How to protect yourself: title loans — What else can you do in a pinch, that’s less risky? Advice from Florida’s Attorney General